About this artwork

This is a relatively small canvas for Degas’s late work, and indeed, some of the dancers’ poses look back to his earlier ballet pictures from the 1870s. Here, a group of dancers are on stage preparing themselves for the impending performance: they practise their positions and one ballerina stoops to tie her shoe. The dancers are not individuals, but faceless memories of a scene he had once observed. The vivid colours are vibrant and unrealistic, evoking the surreal effects produced by the gas lights of the theatre. Pools of shadow on the large expanse of stage are also rather abstract, and it is clear that by the late 1890s, Degas was far less concerned with naturalism than in his former years. His treatment of the oil paint is very delicate, almost as if it were gouache.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Degas's celebrated paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture focus on aspects of Parisian modern life, including the racecourse and the ballet. His studies at the École des Beaux-Arts encouraged his interest in the human figure which remained central to his art. He travelled to Italy, where he had relatives, and where he continued to study the art of the past. The family portraits he painted there, however, also reflect his interest in capturing momentary appearances and unusual viewpoints. This he shared with the Impressionists, whom he met through Edouard Manet, on his return to Paris. Degas contributed to seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitions.